I was having a low day when I started writing this post, and since that’s part of what I want to use the blog for I decided to write about it, although I didn’t get round to finishing it until I started feeling better, which is pretty typical for me.
I was thinking about stagnation, which I’m sure is something every writer has struggled with at some point or another – in fact every creative person, regardless of their medium – and no matter how many times I find myself in the middle of it, it never gets any easier.
I’m not necessarily talking about a lack of productivity, although often the two things are interconnected. I’m talking about a protracted period of general restlessness – the feeling of treading water, having to wait on responses from agents, publishers, universities, competitions and being unable to move forward until The Email arrives.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a patient person. Relying on other people to get things done on my behalf makes me anxious and irritable. I think that’s because I spent most of my twenties working a day-job in customer service (which I hated) and going absolutely nowhere creatively. That was partly down to the fact that I couldn’t settle on an outlet for my creativity – I was in a heavy metal band and that was my Big Life Plan for a few years – so I floundered around instead of focusing my energies on one thing.
I was also tired from working at quite a physically demanding job, and at the same time I was involved in a pretty toxic relationship that ground me down to a nub and hollowed me out from the inside, leaving me very little energy for pursuing my goals and even less confidence that I was capable of achieving anything. Eventually I saw it for what it was and managed to end it, but since then I’ve had this feeling like I’m desperately scrambling to make up for lost time, so anything that puts the brakes on leaves me feeling really agitated.
I wouldn’t say I ‘have’ depression (not that there’s anything wrong with that at all), but I’m definitely prone to depressive moods if I’m not in control of what happens next, not just career-wise but with anything that’s important to me. The only reason I’m reluctant to label it is that I know people with serious depression and it’s completely debilitating, so I don’t want to minimise their struggles by saying my problems are the same as theirs. But the feeling I get when I’m down can leave me both lethargic and restless, and usually affects my sleep, my work and my general outlook on life, so even though I don’t suffer from it constantly I can sympathise with people who have to live with that on a daily basis. My heart goes out to them.
I can’t really say that this post offers any constructive advice for dealing with periods of stagnation or comes to any positive conclusion, other than maybe to say it’s fairly common for creative people and it will pass, you just have to grit your teeth and bear it.
On my low days I usually get very little achieved, even though I might really be looking forward to starting a new story or editing one I’ve already written. Quite often I’ll sit down at my laptop with the intention of getting something done and then suddenly lose enthusiasm/ energy – which makes me feel even worse because then it’s like I’ve failed at the thing I love to do more than anything – but I’ve learned to be kind to myself and recognise that it’s OK. It’ll pass. I just have to be patient and not beat myself up.
At other times, like yesterday, even though I wasn’t up to writing prose I did get some notes down for a book idea I’ve been chewing over for a while. I gave up pretty quickly and I don’t think I thought up anything new, it was more just writing down ideas that had been in my head already, but it was something.
Working as a freelance writer is something I enjoy and am very proud of, but it gets difficult sometimes to reconcile ‘business’ writing with ‘fun’ writing. Often I’m too worn out from staring at the screen all day to get started on a creative project in the evening, but again, it’s about making time for the things I care about and finding ways to compromise so that I can pay my bills and still pursue my dreams. I count myself very lucky that I’m able to have dreams at all, so I try to remind myself that life could be – and has been – a lot worse.
Periods of stagnation can be paralysing but they can also be opportunities to recharge your batteries and assess where you’re going next. Don’t get me wrong, I hate being in them, but sometimes you just have to shut down for a while and wait for things to get moving again on their own. If you’ve done all you can do then that work will pay off. I’m really not cut out for waiting patiently, but I suppose waiting impatiently has the same effect in the end, so I’ll have to make do with that.
If you want to follow me @RoseJamesAuthor I’m always happy to see what other people are up to and be reminded that the world keeps on turning. That’s usually enough to make me shrug out of my sulks and run to catch up again 🙂